An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Lunheng 論衡

Nov 15, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Lunheng 論衡 "Discussive weighing" is a philosophical treatise written during the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220) by Wang Chong 王充 (27-97 CE).

It took himself thirty years to complete his book. Of the originally 85 chapters one is lost (Zhaozhi 招致). Wang Chong screened a vast amount of ancient literature to obtain a pool of statements of the supernatural, which he wanted to engage in a scientific dispute. Wang Chong is highly esteemed both in China and in the West as one of the first philosophers who critically analysed history books and stories to eliminate superstitious elements. Especially two beliefs were attacked by Wang Chong, firstly the belief that human deeds were somehow redeemed by Heaven as a moral instance (ganying 感應), and secondly, the belief in magic and omens. There was a very popular tradition of explaining the Confucian Classics in terms of portents sent down by Heaven, as expressed in the vast treasury of apocryphal (chenwei 讖緯) literature.

Wang Chong did not believe in a thorough and mutual connectivity of all objects existing in the universe (see correlative thinking) which would make the existence of all objects, physical qualities and human emotions dependent on a set of other conditions in the universe, and which would postulate that—like in the biblical sense—the universe was complete in its actual state. Wang, quite contrary, believed that, for instance, the existence of certain plants was not the result of Heaven's will to nourish humans, or that thunder, inundations, the appearance of phoenixes or strange sprites, were caused by good or evil behaviour of a ruler. The existence of all objects and their qualities was accidental (ziran 自然), as Wang Chong believed, and not the result of a higher metaphysical plan. Heaven was also not the force enthroning a ruler by assigning to him the Heavenly Mandate, but men became sovereigns by way of their own powers and favoured by historical circumstances. Ghosts could simply not exist, because there was no spirit (jing 精) without body (ti 體), just as there is no fire without fuel. Wang also doubted the existence of innate knowledge because everyone had to gather experience acquire knowledge.

There is a commentary written by Huang Hui 黃暉, the Lunheng jiaoshi 論衡校釋, Liu Pan's 劉盼 Lunheng jijie 論衡集解, and the commentary Lunheng zhushi 論衡注釋 written by the modern scholar by Gao Suheng 高蘇垣.

The Lunheng was quite widespread from the Southern and Northern Dynasties period 南北朝 (300~600) on and was categorized as a writing of miscellaneous masters (zajia 雜家). One reason for its popularity might be that it was the oldest book in which systematically stories of bizarre events were assembled, and this genre (zhiguai 志怪) was one of the most favoured types through the history of Chinese literature.

During the Qing period 清 (1644-1911), some scholars doubted the authenticity of many chapters of the Lunheng, like Xiong Bolong 熊伯龍 (1617-1669), who believed the chapters Wen Kong 問孔 and Ci Meng 刺孟 to be later insertions.

There is a moveable-type printing from the Song period 宋 (960-1279) preserved in the Beijing Library 北京圖書館, as well as a fragmentary print of 30 juan from the Yuan 元 (1279-1368) or early Ming period 明 (1368-1644). A fragment of 25 juan of a Song-period print is preserved in the Library of the Imperial Household Agency (Kunai-chō shoryō-bu zushoryō 宮内庁書陵部図書寮) in Japan. There is also a print from Su Xianke's 蘇獻可 Tongjincao Studio 通津草堂 from 1535, and Cheng Rong's 程榮 print in the series Han-Wei congshu 漢魏叢書 from 1573. The Lunheng is also to be found in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, Zengding Han-Wei congshu 增訂漢魏叢書, Longxi jingshe congshu 龍溪精舍叢書, Sibu congkan 四部叢刊 and Congshu jicheng 叢書集成初編.

There is a complete English translation by Alfred Forke (1962), Lun-Heng: Philosophical Essays of Wang Ch‘ung (New York: Paragon).

Table 1. Contents of the Lunheng 論衡
1. 逢遇篇 Fengyu Success and luck
2. 累害篇 Leihai Annoyances and vexations
3. 命祿篇 Minglu On destiny and fortune
4. 氣壽篇 Qishou Long life and vital fluid
5. 幸偶篇 Xing'ou On chance and luck
6. 命義篇 Mingyi What is meant by destiny?
7. 無形篇 Wuxing Unfounded assertions
8. 率性篇 Shuaixing The forming of characters
9. 吉驗篇 Jiyan Auspicious portents
10. 偶會篇 Ouhui Coincidences
11. 骨相篇 Guxiang On anthroposcopy
12. 初稟篇 Chubing Heaven's original gift
13. 本性篇 Benxing On original nature
14. 物勢篇 Wushi The nature of things
15. 奇怪篇 Qiguai Miracles
16. 書虛篇 Shuxu Falsehoods in books
17. 變虛篇 Bianxu Ficticious phenomena
18. 異虛篇 Yixu Ficticious prodigies
19. 感虛篇 Ganxu Ficticious influences
20. 福虛篇 Fuxu Wrong notions about happiness
21. 禍虛篇 Huoxu Wrong notions about unhappiness
22. 龍虛篇 Longxu On dragons
23. 雷虛篇 Leixu On thunder and lightning
24. 道虛篇 Daoxu Daoist untruths
25. 語增篇 Yuzeng Exaggerations
26. 儒增篇 Ruzeng Exaggerations of the literati
27. 藝增篇 Yizeng Literary exaggerations
28. 問孔篇 Wen Kong Criticisms on Confucius
29. 非韓篇 Fei Han Strictures on Han Feizi
30. 刺孟篇 Ci Meng Censures on Mengzi
31. 談天篇 Tantian On Heaven
32. 說日篇 Shuori On the Sun
33. 答佞篇 Daning On the cunning and artful
34. 程材篇 Chengcai Weighing of talents
35. 量知篇 Liangzhi The valuation of knowledge
36. 謝短篇 Xieduan Admitting shortcomings
37. 效力篇 Xiaoli The display of energy
38. 別通篇 Bietong On intelligence
39. 超奇篇 Chaoqi On preeminence
40. 狀留篇 Zhuangliu Apparent backwardness
41. 寒溫篇 Hanwen On heat and cold
42. 譴告篇 Qiangao On reprimands
43. 變動篇 Biandong Phenomenal changes
44. 招致篇 Zhaozhi Results of moral behaviour
45. 明雩篇 Mingwu On the rain sacrifice
46. 順鼓篇 Shungu Gentle drums
47. 亂龍篇 Luanlong A last word on dragons
48. 遭虎篇 Caohu The tiger trouble
49. 適蟲篇 Shichong Remarks on insects
50. 講瑞篇 Jiangrui Arguments on ominous creatures
51. 指瑞篇 Zhirui Thoughts on omens
52. 是應篇 Shiying Auguries verified
53. 治期篇 Zhiqi Periods of government
54. 自然篇 Ziran Spontaneity
55. 感類篇 Ganlei Sympathetic emotions
56. 齊世篇 Qishi The quality of ages
57. 宣漢篇 Xuan Han Praise of the Han dynasty
58. 恢國篇 Huiguo Further remarks on the state
59. 驗符篇 Yanfu Ominous signs investigated
60. 須頌篇 Xusong The necessity of eulogies
61. 佚文篇 Yiwen Lost texts
62. 論死篇 Lunsi On death
63. 死偽篇 Siwei False reports about the death
64. 紀妖篇 Jiyao Spook stories
65. 訂鬼篇 Dinggui All about ghosts
66. 言毒篇 Yandu On poison
67. 薄葬篇 Bozang Simplicity of funerals
68. 四諱篇 Siwei Four things to be avoided
69. 譋時篇 Lanshi False charges against time
70. 譏日篇 Jiri Slandering of days
71. 卜筮篇 Bushi On divination
72. 辨祟篇 Biansui Criticisms on noxious influences
73. 難歲篇 Nansui Questions about the Year Star
74. 詰術篇 Jieshu Criticism on certain theories
75. 解除篇 Jiechu On exorcism
76. 祀義篇 Siyi Sacrifices to the departed
77. 祭意篇 Jiyi Sacrifices
78. 實知篇 Shizhi The knowledge of truth
79. 知實篇 Zhishi The real nature of knowledge
80. 定賢篇 Dingxian A definition of worthies
81. 正說篇 Zhengshuo Statements corrected
82. 書解篇 Shujie On literary works
83. 案書篇 Anshu Critical remarks on various books
84. 對作篇 Duizuo Replies in self-defence
85. 自紀篇 Ziji Autobiography
Kong Min 孔繁 (1987). "Lunheng 論衡", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 524-525.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1943.
Pokora, Timoteus, Michael Loewe (1993). "Lun heng", in Michael Loewe, ed. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China/Institute of East Asian Studies), 309-312.